RULES OF THE GAME
I. Discover or create a demand,
II. Secure a reliable connect to fill the demand,
III. Agree on a reasonable price for the product,
IV. Establish a reliable distribution network,
V. Supply the demand,
No, this doesn’t describe the drug trade, it describes capitalism – the bedrock of our American economic system. It just so happens that the drug trade, and the American economy share many similarities. One of these similarities is the prevalent “hustle” mentality. You know, buy low – sell high, otherwise known as “flipping”. There’s nothing wrong with that in itself, in fact, if you’re selling for less than you’re buying then you’re doing something wrong. Real business is about profit, but real business is also about longevity and that’s the problem with only having a hustle mentality; it often prevents you from thinking about your life ten years from now because you’re only concerned about tomorrow. A short-sighted flipping mentality doesn’t work in the long run because at some point you have to establish a structure which will continue to generate money for you in the long run or allow for a big payoff in the future. In other words, there’s nothing wrong with flipping as long as you’re flipping your way into longevity. If you don’t believe me, believe Warren Buffett, one of the greatest businessmen of all time. He doesn’t invest in a company unless he’ll be satisfied with owning it 5 – 10 years from now. There’s a reason why Warren Buffett has maintained his success; he doesn’t follow the crowd or the schizophrenic “now mentality” of todays’ society.
In order to profit in the long run, you have to be able to see deeper than the surface and further than just today or tomorrow. Proverbs 29:18 puts it like this, “Where there is no vision, the people run wild”. When you don’t have a long-term vision, you’ll do and fall for anything. When you’re only concerned about the short-term flip, you’ll recklessly sell your value of today instead of holding it for the major pay off down the road. This short-term flip mentality can be seen not only on Wall Street or the drug trade, but also in the music business. How many times have you heard a rapper compare their music to crack or dope? Probably more than you can count, but they’re not lying – their music is a product in the same way that crack is a product. The issue, though, is that just like the drug trade, or Wall Street, many musicians are only concerned about what’s going on right now. They’re not concerned with building a catalog, or an influential and valuable reputation/brand. Understand that it’s called the music BUSINESS for a reason, and business is the bigger word. If you want to thrive in this music business, you better have an understanding of what’s going on in it. The staple of the music business is intellectual property, primarily copyrights. Everything a musician does is based around their copyrights. Copyrights are what allow a musician to generate royalties and licensing fees through the sale of their music and/or performance of their music on television shows, commercials, and movies. Copyrights are what allow musicians to continue to profit when they stop making music (as long people still want to listen to their music). If there were no copyrights, anyone would be able to sell an artists’ music without their permission. Unfortunately, many in the music business don’t know this, all they know is that they want money. Ok, we all want money, but I’ll tell you like my uncle told me when I asked him to co-sign my Sallie Mae student loans, “Have your ducks in a row” and come correct.
This is especially true for those who actually write and produce music. Those two areas are where the real money lies in the music business, but often times those writers and producers don’t take the necessary steps to secure their rights. I always hear about writers who don’t properly account for their writing share of songs or producers who give away beats for free or lease beats through stupid contracts. Now, I understand doing free work in exchange for good relationships and/or the long term gain, but the long term gain in the music business is secured through the copyright and the money that comes from exploiting the copyright (publishing). So even if, as a producer, you give away your beat for free, you still need to make sure that you’re listed on the split sheet, as the 50% owner of the underlying composition and as a writer, there are very few times when you should take less than your fair share of the writers’ credit. Now this is all copyright law I’m talking about and it is here that I have to encourage you to seek a lawyer for legal advice, because this article is not meant to be legal advice and should not be construed as legal advice, it is meant to encourage you to get your business right and do your due diligence. It’s good to have a lawyer and/or manager who understands the music business and the legalities of it, but if you don’t understand it for yourself, you will forever be dependent on others for your existence.
There’s a popular phrase people like to use, it goes something like this: “If you’re not talking about money, what you talking bout’?” Well I say, “If you’re not talking about copyrights as a musician, you can’t talk about money”. In 1997, EMI Music Publishing paid $132 million for just 50% of Berry Gordys’ publishing company because his publishing company owned the rights to over 15,000 classic Motown songs like ”My Girl,” by the Temptations, and ”I Heard it Through the Grapevine,” by Marvin Gaye. Now that’s a major flip, but it was only a major flip because he built an actual business. He built an enterprise which was established through an understanding of the business sphere which he operated in and the legalities of that sphere (copyright and publishing). As a musician in the music business, you have to understand that you are a business person whether or not you like it. Music is influential, especially hip-hop; don’t let people eat off of your plate!
Once again, this article is not intended nor should it be construed as legal advice in any form or fashion. By doing so, you take full responsibility and liability for the result. I strongly recommend that you see a lawyer for legal advice and help in structuring your music business career
Elijah Adefope is a music business consultant and a second year law student at Atlanta’s John Marshall Law School. Follow his music business blog ‘Kings and Slaves’ and also his Twitter page.